Chenelle Nimrod was just three years old when doctors told her mom the toddler had a hole in her heart.
Natasha Nimrod (40), says her little girl had been completely healthy before her heart-disease diagnosis, which was preceded by her daughter complaining of leg pain, constipation and a rapid heartbeat.
“I took her to the hospital and the doctor said there was something wrong with her heart and we needed to have it checked out.”
Natasha, who lives in Queenstown, took her daughter to a cardiac specialist in Gqeberha who “discovered the big hole in her heart”, and diagnosed her with congenital heart disease (CHD), a common birth defect which can affect the structure of a baby’s heart and the way it works.
“I was very stressed because I didn’t know what to expect or what would happen with my daughter,” Natasha says.
She felt devastated at the news, she recalls. “It was the first time I had to face something like that,” she tells YOU.
That was three years ago and now, after a successful operation, Chenelle is back home and on the road to recovery.
“Everything is over now, and I am just so thankful,” Natasha says.
Chenelle, now six, and her mom came to Cape Town last month so she could finally undergo her life-changing surgery at the Busamed Paardevlei Private Hospital in Somerset West.
“The first thing she asked me after surgery was, ‘Mommy, is my heart closed?’ and I could finally tell her, ‘Yes, you don’t have to worry anymore’,” the visibly relieved mom-of-three says.
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After her diagnosis, Chenelle was given medication which doctors hoped would close the hole in her heart, but it did not work. The heart disease also prevented Chenelle from picking up weight as she grew, and she was placed on the heart-surgery waiting list.
“For almost three years, we went up and down for check-ups, until they called me to say she can finally come for her operation,” Natasha says.
Thanks to the Pelo Foundation, a non-profit organisation that raises awareness and funds for children with CHD, the Busamed Hospital Group and Wings & Wishes, a transport organisation, everything was in place for Chenelle’s life-changing surgery.
As excited and relieved as Natasha was, she was also worried as she and Chenelle would be going to Cape Town on their own, leaving her husband and her other children at home. She would also be giving up the job she had just started “and the Covid situation also made it a bit scary”, she adds.
The days leading up to the surgery were especially emotional. “I was crying most of the time,” she says.
The day of the surgery “was the longest day of my life”. The procedure took about five hours, and
“I was walking up and down, pacing, not knowing what to do. I was trying to calm my nerves, constantly checking WhatsApp but nothing helped”, she recalls.
The surgery was a success and when Natasha saw her daughter, she couldn’t believe she was already conscious, especially after the doctors told her that children often wake up a day and a half after these types of surgeries.
“The doctors were impressed with Chenelle, because by the fourth day she wanted to walk around. She was very strong through it all,” the proud mom says.
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Now, Chenelle is recovering at home with her mom and family.
“I need to look after her for six weeks so I need to be at home, I can’t go [look] for work because I need to be here for her,” Natasha says.
Financially, things are tough for the family, but despite all the challenges they have faced, Natasha is grateful her daughter could have the operation and she wants to help other kids in similar situations.
The greatest lesson she has learnt, in one of the “scariest” times in her life, is to trust that everything will work out.
“To the parents going through something similar, just trust God through the process. Have hope and pray and God is always on our side,” Natasha says.
“Even with my child, I knew God would take her through everything. We prayed, my whole family was in prayers all over the world, and I think those prayers gave her strength.”